Study Guide

Sold Innocence

By Patricia McCormick

Innocence

We put out dozens of tiny oil lamps at dusk to welcome the goddess Lakshmi, my namesake, who will circle the earth and bestow wealth and blessings on the humble and the pure. (30.FestivalofLights.3)

Lakshmi's named after the goddess who blesses the pure… and innocent. Hello there, giant meaningful thing in literature. See our discussion of names in the "Symbols" section for more discussion about this topic.

Ama presses a coin into my palm. "Run off and buy yourself a sweet cake," she says, "like the other children."

I tell her I'm not a child anymore. I tell her not to waste her money. But she insists.

"Tonight," she says, "you are a child." (32.AttheFestival.1-3)

Lakshmi has already become a woman in the eyes of her community, but Ama continues to believe that, in some ways, Lakshmi retains her innocence. So how might Ama define innocence?

It is all so confusing. I am afraid of this man. But I also feel grateful that he will protect me from the bad border men with guns. (54.UncleHusband.11)

As readers we begin to understand what is happening even if Lakshmi doesn't. Uncle Husband is praying on Lakshmi's innocence and lack of information about her new and ever-changing surroundings.

"You ignorant hill girl," she says.

"You don't know anything. Do you?" […]

I understand it all now. (70.Sold.13, 21-22)

Innocence is often tied to roots—when Lakshmi is accused of not knowing, she's often called a hill girl in reference to where she came from. But Lakshmi is smarter than her captors give her credit for, and she claims that she understands the new world order. So who is more aware of Lakshmi's innocence—her captors or her?

But no matter how often I wash and scrub and wash and scrub, I cannot seem to rinse the men from my body. (87.ABucketofWater.2)

Lakshmi is no longer sexually innocent, and like many sexually abused women, she tries to use physical means to cleanse the psychological hurt from her. What does this mean for her innocence, both sexually and spiritually?

And so I held him, too.

Slowly, I put my arms around him and allowed them to stay.

Eventually, we pulled apart. I was the last to let go. (119.AnAccidentalKindness.6-8)

Here we see that Lakshmi's true self is still inside her somewhere, that there is a part of that—despite a long line of horrifying experiences at the hands of strangers—is still inclined to trust. You could argue that this is a bit of youthful innocence emerging in this scene with the hugging man, but we think it's more a mark of wisdom—Lakshmi intuits that she can be vulnerable with this man.

Monica exhales. "They will thank us," she says. "They will thank us and honor us when we go home." (122.UnderstandingMonica.10)

There are other moments where this happens, but this is an example of a time when we have a hard time differentiating between innocence and self-deception-to-survive.

I wince.

But Monica laughs bitterly.
I don't understand.

"I thought you said they would honor you and thank you," I say.
She snorts. (130.TheLivingDead.7-9)

Consider the change in Monica throughout the story that culminates in this point. She's the thirsty vine girl, earning enough money to send home to her family for luxurious goods (glasses, an operation), but her community and family ultimately reject her when she returns to them. So when does she lose her innocence—at Happiness House or when she is thrown out of her village? What makes you think this?

She spits. "You stupid hill girl," she says. "You actually believe what she's told you?"

I do. I have to believe. (156.AWarning.10-11)

A question that pops up again and again throughout the novel is the connection between naïveté and innocence. Is Lakshmi naïve here, or is her innocence and belief more of a choice? That is, can she choose to regain her innocence, and how exactly might that happen?

Mumtaz has called me a little hill girl. Which is, still, what I am. (176.Punishment.23)

Mumtaz means that Lakshmi doesn't know much, but we think Lakshmi means she knows all she needs to know—right from wrong, how it feels to be safe and loved, and that she can be valued for her brain and not just bought and sold for her body. What do you think?